The year 2014 was meant to be the year that ended the Program of Action adopted by the Cairo Conference for Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994. The document was a paradigm shift in understanding and framing reproductive health and rights and prioritizing individuals’ rights to choose and make decisions with regards to their own bodies. Now that the General Assembly extended the PoA indefinitely, and will review country progress at its 2014 session, it is the right moment to evaluate the extent to which different countries in the region implemented the PoA and how this has changed the realities lived by women and youth regarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
In the MENA region, acknowledging reproductive rights in a UN consensus document has greatly contributed in enhancing the countries’ policies especially in maternity care, family planning services and HIV/AIDS. Yet, cultural and religious discourses still play a major role in holding back sexual rights especially for young people. Women’s autonomy over their bodies is still a highly debated issue because of the deeply embedded patriarchal culture, which is also reflected in an unprecedented increase in the level of sexual violence against women.
Given the diversity of socioeconomic conditions in the MENA region, it is difficult to make categorical statements about the situation of reproductive and sexual health and rights. Yet, in many countries disparities in access to reproductive healthcare persist, where poorer, less educated and rural woman face many barriers to adequate and affordable healthcare services. In most MENA countries, women and young people are excluded from decision-making circles, which is reflected in the gender-insensitive policies adopted by these states.
Adopting a progressive agenda for post-2014 will definitely positively influence women’s and young people’s lives and make governments more accountable for the health and lives of their citizens. It will also help to integrate women and youth in designing, implementing and monitoring policies that influence their reproductive health and will provide guidance on achieving reproductive justice.